When struggling to get a handle on your finances, a little organization can help a lot.
Many investors eventually gravitate to Quicken or Microsoft Money. But if you don't need all those features, or you're not so certain whether electronic money management will work for you, start by checking out some free money tools on the Internet.
Geared to youngish users with simpler finances (and an apparently inexhaustible ability to network), many tools offer budgeting and account management features, along with discussion forums and online access for on-the-go money management. Many also promise to play nicely with your other gadgets.
Buxfer: One clever aspect of this tool lets users track expenses split among a group such as housemates or vacationing friends. Input the amount owed to and from each member, and Buxfer will tell you the most efficient way to settle up. It also includes budgeting and expense tracking tools and account management.
Expensr: Use this site to track your money and accounts. You can compare your spending to other similarly situated users and find out that other 28-year-old computer programmers spend all their money at Target and McDonald's, too.
Mint: With angel investors that include former Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU ) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) executives, and a fund that invested early in Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) and eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY ) PayPal, this site has strong backing. Mint tracks your bank and credit card accounts, and it includes budgeting functions that let you categorize your cash expenses from ATM withdrawals and split categories for a single transaction. It also automatically finds those pesky ATM fees. An interesting feature compares your spending habits with local, state, and national averages.
No Credit Needed Network: If you're looking for a motivational tool to help pay down debt or save more, try this website's simple pie charts. Enter your goal and then track your progress. (Check out the No Credit Needed podcast for a pep talk from a "regular dude" who paid off his debt and now lives without credit.)
PearBudget: This one is a really simple budgeting system with an elegant interface. You write a budget, enter your receipts to track spending, then adjust the budget where necessary. A simple system for categorizing expenditures as regular or irregular helps plan for expenses like car insurance and vacations. (It's free now, but it will cost $3 a month after beta.)
Wesabe: A neat feature of this site lets users establish and concentrate on money goals, with links to tips from other members and relevant forums. It also lets you track accounts, budget, and compare your spending with other users. The tutorial video promises personalized financial advice based on your spending habits, not generic advice like, "Don't buy a latte every day."
WhatBills?: If you're lost in a sea of paperwork, this website may help you organize your bills and stick to payment deadlines. Enter your bills and an email notification reminds you when they're due. Keeping all this information in one place helps you understand your spending, especially if you're struggling over a budget.
Did I overlook your favorite money tool? Let me know. In the meantime, keep reading for more help managing your money. Find out: